Articles Trash Culture Bolt Thrower #4: Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, Making Money, Game of Thrones, Jim Moray
 

Bolt Thrower #4: Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, Making Money, Game of Thrones, Jim Moray Bolt Thrower #4: Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, Making Money, Game of Thrones, Jim Moray Hot

bolt-throwerThey’re coming at you thick and fast, a veritable storm of fire. It’s Bolt Thrower time yet again, although there shouldn’t be too many back-to-back versions. I plan to use the opportunity to catch up on some longer-running trash culture themes that I might miss in my fortnightly snapshots.

Games

One of the reasons I picked Commands & Colors: Ancients last week was as an introduction to this weeks’ review of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. It owes a lot to its predecessor, including some holdovers of rules that aren’t entirely necessary, but has enough clever new stuff in it to make the play properly differentiated from other C&C series games and properly Napoleonic in feel. The trouble is, basically, there’s just too much C&C stuff now, and Napoleonics, whilst well designed, challenging, and fun feels like it falls between the depth and realism of C&C:A and the excitement and approachability of Memoir ‘44. It’s neither one thing nor the other and that’s a shame, but I feel it’s for enthusiasts only.

Books

Currently enjoying Terry Pratchett’s Making Money. Whilst it’s full of the usual sparkle, wit and imagination I can’t help but think  - and I almost feel guilty for saying this - it’s the work of an author past the peak of his powers. Everything is just a bit more obvious. The puns less clever, the plot more predictable, the characters a bit more stereotypical. Still entirely worthwhile, but vintage Pratchett this is not.

Video Games

So, yes, the primary function of this new Xbox 360 so far has been to make me wish I had an HDTV. Two games so far have occupied my time. The first is XBLA download Trials Evolution which I reviewed. It’s a fantastically fun game that’s filled with thrills and spills whilst offering the dedicated gamer a challenging difficulty curve to conquer if they so wish. The second is Bioshock which, I must admit, I found slightly disappointing in the face of its exalted reputation. Its respawn model, which sees dead players simply resurrected at the nearest checkpoint, not only makes the game ridiculously easy since you can just run back repeatedly to whatever’s killing you and wear it down until it’s dead, but spoils the game’s jewel in the crown which is immersion and believability. Why is it only you that can use the checkpoints, and none of your foes?

Films & TV

I mentioned I wanted to use the back-to-back Bolt Thrower opportunity do a bit of catchup in this article and the first thing is to look at A Game of Thrones season 2 so far. I am not, it has to be said, enjoying it as much as the first series although it’s still tremendously entertaining. I like the way in which it muddies the moral waters of Westeros still further, with some unsympathetic characters (such as Cersei) displaying a more tender side, and some sympathetic characters (such as Theon) demonstrating how apparently civilized people can lose their ethical compass if the right buttons get pushed. But the whole offering seems somehow less coherent than the first series, perhaps an inevitable result of the introduction of new characters and further splintering of plot lines that probably prove easier to take in during the more involved and long-term effort of reading a book over watching the TV. One thing in particular did irk me hugely and that’s the sub-plot with Jon Snow and the Wildlings, almost entirely because the manner in which it begins is so unbelievale. We’re expected to swallow that experienced rangers would just leave a young man to kill a dangerous prisoner, to whom he’s previously shown mercy, alone and without supervision? And then that in a short time between escape and recapture the pair of them have gone so far from camp they can’t find their way back over the course of two days? Sorry, but I’m not buying that, especially given the attention paid to authenticity and realism elsewhere in the plot.

Music

Right, catchup. We need to talk about Jim Moray.

If anyone in my eclectic musical taste would quality as a favourite artist, it’d be Jim Moray. His stock in trade is the re-arrangement of traditional folk material in a variety of fearlessly inventive and modern styles. Aside from a lot of clear influence from progressive rock and techno, he’s sampled diverse genres such as jazz, hip-hop and even rockabilly in an apparent quest to drag folk kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Folk is, by its very nature, a conservative medium. If you’re playing and singing tunes that are two or three hundred years old, the thinking goes, you ought to be playing them in the style of two or three hundred years ago to preserve their historical value and authenticity. I hope I don’t need to point out the flaws in that logic which, of course, is partly what’s responsible for keeping traditional folk as the tiny minority interest that it currently is. Jim, thankfully, doesn’t care. His debut album opened with Early One Morning, a track that’s been reviled by old folkies ever since it was used to mercilessly lampoon traditionalists in a popular 70’s sitcom. Using it to open an album is therefore a fairly daring move. Reinventing it as a sample-heavy track with a slow techno beat, in the face of all that traditionalism, as the very first track on your very first album is pushing it to the point of foolhardiness. But it worked. While it did outrage the purists, most folk fans loved it, and it proved popular enough to turn up as a backing track in the odd TV series.

Five albums later, he’s calmed down a bit and moved a little back toward a traditional sound whilst remaining inventive on every album and showcasing a huge talent bringing the emotional impact in the material to the fore. I’m a little disappointed that his rock influences seem to have become more pronounced and the techno aspects faded a bit into the background, although he’s suggested his next album is likely to rectify that balance, as well as veering back into more experimental territory. For me, he’s at his best when he’s not just breaking the mold, but crushing it into small pieces. His career high so far in my opinion is taking the grim ballad of murder and incest Lucy Wan, setting it to a skittering trip-hop beat with a suitably menacing bassline and then inviting a grime MC to rap over the top of it alongside Jim’s singing. It’s nothing like traditional music, but it is quite stunningly atmospheric.

The selection of Mr. Moray available on Spotify is sadly limited, but here’s my top 10 out of what’s there. Otherwise you’re limited to my youtube links and his bandcamp page. Do, at least, check out Lucy Wan just to hear what the ultimate in genre-blending sounds like. But I hope you listen to some more - it’s brilliant stuff.

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Comments (13)
  • avatarDukeofChutney

    good C&C N review. It is the only CnC game i've played but i agree with your conclusions. It has as many rules as any of the other block games i have, and although they are intuitive, they seem a little redundant in a game that is quite random. I'm not sure how well it really represents napoleonic strategy and tactics. I've played 18mm napoleonic war games and have a fair idea of how things worked. Alot of the chrome rules like squares end up falling slightly short. Napoleons Triumph asks you to think more like a napoleonic general but its a less intuitive game.

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    Agree with Napoleonics now that I've played Ancients enough.

    Disagree with Bioshock, because if you liked System Shock 1 and 2, then this is simply the next evolution. You're not "respawning" as much as having your DNA reassembled from your last booth. I know, its a stretch, but in a big fucking underwater city filled with marvels and technology that doesn't exist even today....big stretch to begin with so the respawn isn't too far a cry.

    PC version is WAY better on a high-end PC. Graphics are ridiculous.

  • avatarMattDP  - re:
    SuperflyTNT wrote:
    I know, its a stretch, but in a big fucking underwater city filled with marvels and technology that doesn't exist even today....big stretch to begin with so the respawn isn't too far a cry.

    Well, whatever. It still makes the game ridiculously easy. It's almost pointless collecting stuff, because you can just equip the wrench and keep running at stuff over and over until it's dead. I stopped bothering to actually buy anything other than tonics & slots a while back.

  • avatarJeff White

    Thanks for the tip on Jim Moray. Sounds good. Looks like he's done some work with Oysterband. I'm a big, big fan of theirs (as are the kids), so he must be alright. :)

  • avatarwaddball

    Why feel (well, okay, almost feel) guilty about Pratchett? Your remarks match a very common pattern: "While I liked [Discworld X], it's not Pratchett's best, which is [Discworld Y]." But no one can agree on X and Y. Yes, some are a bit more "vintage", but I swear, I can't seem to find the "canonical" Pratchett. I'm trying, but so far all of them have the problems you cite. I'm on my fifth or sixth Pratchett now, but his charms still elude me. I'm just not sure what he's writing: it's not funny enough to be comedy, nor imaginative or coherent enough to be fantasy (whatever that exactly means). I enjoy parts of all of them, but I can't point to any and feel like it was a good book start to finish.

    HBO's Game of Thrones is fading hard for me. The cast is still solid, but the writing and direction...yikes. The "compromises for the medium" (and really, what can't be justified with this phrase?) are feeling more arbitrary than necessary. The scene you describe is a great example: no reason for that at all. Likewise all that nonsense with Arya and Tywin, the mass-murdering sorcerers of Qarth, Daenerys the Queen of Petulance. I could go on, but...ugh, not the level of Season 1. Not awful or unwatchable yet, though, so I hope the Blackwater renews my enthusiasm. I gather Season 3 covers the first half of Storm of Swords, and thus may feel less rushed and have fewer compromises. But I'm wary at this point, and about to jump ship and wait to read Winds of Winter (cobbled together by Brandon Sanderson in 2017, a year after GRRM succumbs to bad lamprey pie at PathetiCon16).

    /rant (need to back off on the coffee, I guess, sorry!)

  • avatarMattDP  - re:
    waddball wrote:
    Why feel (well, okay, almost feel) guilty about Pratchett?

    I feel guilty about it because he's suffering with early onset dementia, and I can't help but feel the lower quality of the writing may be a result. Sad, but true.

    waddball wrote:
    Your remarks match a very common pattern: "While I liked [Discworld X], it's not Pratchett's best, which is [Discworld Y]." But no one can agree on X and Y. Yes, some are a bit more "vintage", but I swear, I can't seem to find the "canonical" Pratchett.

    That's interesting because while I haven't discussed the man extensively with anyone in particular, his work follows a very clear patter as it aged. His first few books were written purely for the imagination and comedy value alone, and were quirky and unusual but hardly required reading. Then he went through a relatively long phase where it seemed he was deliberately trying to be a bit more intellectual about it all, but ended up just being obscure. He finally hit his stride round about the time he was issuing repeat novels about the Night Watch and the Witches - those are his best books, which finally succeed in combining fantasy, comedy and what looks to me like some genuine insights into the human condition. And then, lately, they've been technically accomplished books that have lost most of that deeper level, and some of the imagination.

  • avatarSevej

    The great thing about Commands & Colors is its playability. It's simple, it provides a good gameplay, everything else is secondary consideration (when talking about C&C games). I'm still hoping for a sci-fi version...

  • avatarBullwinkle

    Yes, respawning in Bioshock was awful on every level. Fortunately, the PC version of Bioshock got an update that allowed you to shut down the rejuvenation chambers.

  • avatarMattLoter

    You have to force yourself to do it, but just play through reloading a save every time you would respawn. Pretty sure there is an achievement for finishing without respawning too.

  • avatarwaddball  - re: re:
    MattDP wrote:
    That's interesting because while I haven't discussed the man extensively with anyone in particular, his work follows a very clear patter as it aged.


    I've only read the early stuff so far, though as noted, I didn't just write him off after one or two. I found it hard, back when I was selecting which to read, to get a consensus from the tons of reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and so forth. Book reviews (hell, *all* reviews) are tricky to parse, I've found, as they tend to say a lot more about the reviewer than the subject. This seemed especially true in Pratchett's case.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing. It's not that I dislike him, exactly (I have Men at Arms and Small Gods queued up), but for such a popular author, he's just never quite clicked. Hopefully soon.

  • avatarSevej

    About Bioshock: Only you can use spawn points because there's a nice background story about it. I'm not sure you've passed the spoiler point so I won't state it here.

    I agree about it somehow tainting the game, but being practical I don't see it differ much from save/load, and getting rid of a lot of annoyance in the game.

    PS. Then again, the most interesting part of bioshock it the non-boss part (hence the 'running back to that foe' thing never bothers me). I appreciate the chamber because in the beginning I love to experiment with the powers (in the end though, the wrench and electro-bolt rule). Later in the game, I rarely die in battles against big daddies, and just don't get killed usually.

  • avatarcraniac

    I would love to have a non-collectible CC:Starship Troopers or something similar.

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    Craniac,
    There's nothing stopping you. All you need is some sticker stock, a paper cutter, and some time.

    http://www.columbiagames.com/cgi-bin/query/cfg/bits.cfg

    Columbia sells blocks, so you could quite easily have as many factions as you wish. Just use the rules for Ancients since there's more meat there.

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